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Does ‘Israel’ have a divine right to the land? part ii

Map_Land_of_IsraelWith the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, one of the issues for Christians that arises again and again is whether the existence of the modern State of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. I am therefore reposting a pair of articles that I wrote in 2014, which explores carefully whether this is the case—the first looking at OT issues, and this one considering how the NT interprets the OT promises.


In my previous post, looking at the function of the land in the OT, I concluded that the land is the arena in which the people of God both receive God’s blessings, and take on the responsibility of obedience to God’s commands. How is this idea developed and adapted in the New Testament?

There are significant indications that the gospels are located in the context of some sort of expectation of restoration of the land with the coming of messiah (though it is now broadly agreed that there were a variety of expectations in the first century, and a variety of ideas about who the messiah was, what he would do, or whether in fact one was needed). We can see this in Zechariah’s prophetic poem now known as the Benedictus (from the first word in the Latin Vulgate):

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1.68–75)

In context, the main ‘enemy’ is of course Rome, and it is oppression by Rome that is preventing Israel from ‘serving him without fear in holiness.’ So implicit in this expectation is the hope of restoration of the sovereignty of Israel as a nation, inhabiting the promised land. To make this even clearer, Zechariah goes on to allude to Is 40’s proclamation of the one who will ‘go before the Lord to prepare his way’, which is also used in Mark’s introduction in Mark 1.2–3. These verses (from Isaiah and Micah) are all about the people returning from exile and being restored to the land in fulfilment of God’s promise of faithfulness. This is one part of a complex of expectations, which Tom Wright characterises under the headings return from exile, restoration of Temple, renewed covenant, giving of Spirit, keeping of Law, no king but God, and God’s anointed agent (Heb messiach Greek christos) (N T Wright The New Testament and the People of God chapter 10 ‘The Hope of Israel’).


But from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, these expectations are starting to be transformed. Even the most sceptical commentator agrees that the proclamation of the nearness of ‘the kingdom of God’ was a core part of the teaching of the historical Jesus. This phrase, which hardly occurs at all in the OT, shifts the focus from the land in which the people occupy to the reign or authority under which they live. The separation between the free occupation of the land and obedience to God, still held together in the Benedictus, is most decisively broken in Jesus’ answer to the question about taxes:

“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt 22.19–20)

The shock of this is not to do with the separation of the ‘political’ from the ‘religious’ as such, but the overturning of the expectation that the restoration of the land is tied in with the coming of God’s kingdom. Living freely in the land is not the prerequisite to forgiveness of sins and living in holiness.


Consequently, the New Testament strikingly shows no interest in the further question of the land itself, and instead focus on the other elements in Wright’s list. This is shown clearly in the responses of gospel writers to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Mark’s gospel, probably written in the 60s before the temple was destroyed, shows most interest in the immediate events and Jesus’ predictions about them (Mark 13). Matthew’s similar account, most likely written after 70, includes similar details to Mark, but then goes on to focus on Jesus’ words about the parousia, Jesus’ second coming to complete the work begun in the first. John’s gospel goes even further, and does something quite distinct. With the temple gone, and the tension between the now exiled Jews and Jesus’ Jewish-and-gentile followers mounting, John makes clear that Jesus is the temple for those who follow him.

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty–six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2.18–22)

This is not so much about Jesus replacing the temple, but Jesus being the fulfilment of the purpose of the temple—and with it the land. (Note that this is not an idea made up by John and read back into the story about Jesus; reference is made to it in the trial of Jesus in Mark 14.58. This is good example of one of many ‘undesigned’ historical connections between the gospels.) This again is why John’s gospel is so ‘Jewish’, in focussing on Jewish habits of eating, washing, and attending the pilgrim festivals, all the major festivals occurring in John’s narrative. They all find their fulfilment and true meaning in Jesus.

We see in Acts 2.46 that the first generation of believers continued to visit the temple, though of course now with new understanding. While the temple was standing, then Jewish followers of Jesus would continue to worship there. But once the temple was gone, there was no need to long for its restoration, since its meaning was embodied in the person of Jesus. If the land was the arena for knowing the blessing of God and taking on the responsibilities of obedience, that role was now fulfilled in Jesus. So, as with the temple, there is now no need to long for physical return from exile and occupying the territory of the land—all this was now available to those not ‘in Israel’ but ‘in Christ’. I think this is why the phrase is so important in Paul. Where, in the OT, both Jew and gentile ‘resident alien’ enjoy God’s reign when they are ‘in Israel’, now for Paul the (theological) space where this happens for both Jew and gentile is ‘in Christ.’


That is why Peter, writing to an audience containing at least some gentiles, can address the whole group as the ‘diaspora’, the term previously used of Jews scattered and awaiting (at least in principle) a return from exile to the land (1 Peter 1.1). The scattered followers of Jesus are awaiting not their return from physical exile but the return of Jesus to restore all things. Even more explicitly, in the book of Revelation, John sees the fulfilment of the gathering of God’s people from all the nations (Deut 30.3, Jeremiah 32.37, Ezekiel 11.17, 20.34, 36.24) in this uncountable, Jewish-gentile people redeemed by the blood of the lamb (Rev 7.9, also in Rev 5.9, 11.9, 13.7 and 14.6). This is just the way Matthew has understood Jesus’ teaching in Matt 24.31.

Note that reading the NT in this way is not ‘supersessionism‘, where ‘The Church’ replaces ‘The Jews’ as the people of God; this only happens where the Jesus movement is detached from its Jewish historical context and expression. Instead it is a redefinition of what it means to be the people of God beyond ethnic boundaries, just as happened in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and as Paul starts to do in his argument in Romans 2.28–29.

So the New Testament holds out no expectation that ethnic Jews will return to the territory of the land of Israel as part of the fulfilment of the promises of God. All those promises are fulfilled in Jesus, who now becomes the place of God’s blessing and his people’s obedience.

(It is perhaps worth noting that those who argue that the modern state of Israel is the fulfilment of prophecy have to appeal to OT texts alone, and ignore what the NT does with such texts.)


This leaves the one ‘bogie’ text of Romans 11.26: ‘All Israel will be saved’. There is a massive literature on this, some following the view expressed by Tom Wright that ‘all Israel’ refers to all those who are part of God’s new Israel i.e. all those now redeemed through Jesus, and others believing that ‘all Israel’ here refers to ethnic Jewish people, indicating that there will be an ‘end times’ turning of Jews to faith in Jesus. For now, I note some key points in the discussion:

1. There is no reference whatsoever to the idea of Jews returning to the land of Israel. So to fit these two ideas together is an artifice.

2. Verse 26 does not say ‘And then all Israel will be saved’ but ‘and in this way all Israel will be saved.’ So Paul is talking about the hardening of the Jews and the incoming of the gentiles as the means by which God’s purposes of salvation are accomplished, not as something that happens prior to this. I think this strongly supports Wright’s reading.

3. Paul then cites texts from Isaiah and Jeremiah, which he clearly sees fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus: the deliverer from Zion who establishes a (new) covenant and takes away sins.

4. It has been objected that Paul only ever uses ‘Israel’ to mean those who are ethnically Jewish. But Gal 6.16 is a counter-example to this, and Paul certainly uses the language of ‘Jew’ in literal and metaphorical ways earlier in Romans.

5. It seems very odd to me to think that Paul would describe an ‘end-times’ turning of the last generation of Jews to faith in Jesus with the term ‘all Israel.’ This leaves all the (not believing in Jesus) Jews of all the intermediate generations excluded from this, so at the most it could mean ‘all those Jews alive when Jesus returns’. This hardly makes sense of the phrase.


Because of all this, I do not believe that, remarkable though it is, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947 is a ‘fulfilment’ of ‘end times’ ‘prophecies.’ Neither do I believe that Israel has a divine right to the land which trumps all other rights. I do want to defend the right of Israel to exist, and to be a particular homeland for Jews around the world, and to use reasonable force to defend itself—like any other nations. But I do this on grounds other than ‘divine right’ or ‘prophecy.’

In the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, we need to appeal to other grounds to support whatever view we have on the matter.


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26 Responses to Does ‘Israel’ have a divine right to the land? part ii

  1. Will Jones October 31, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    I’m sympathetic to this point of view, and much prefer ‘natural law’ justifications for nationhood etc. than ‘divine right’.

    However, there is a nagging part of me that wonders whether it isn’t quite as simple as this. After all, the restoration of Israel to the Land is a remarkable development, and has come about to a significant extent because of Christian belief in the prophecy that they will be (that does make the prophecy somewhat self-fulfilling admittedly).

    But are there not verses that suggest some kind of continuing validity of the covenant with Israel? Particularly:

    They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. (9:4)

    As regards the gospel they are enemies of God[j] for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (11:28-9)

    Do these irrevocable gifts, covenants and promises not include the Land?

    • Jeremy Moodey October 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      If land was included in the promises of Romans 9:4, then why didn’t Paul mention it explicitly given the importance of the land in the OT? He didn’t because he saw the land promise as fulfilled in Jesus (‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ’, 2 Corinthians 1:20). I have always seen the early verses of Romans 9 as part of Paul’s lament for his fellow Jews, the privileges they have squandered, as a result of which Paul goes on to state (9:6) that ‘…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’. God’s gifts and calling are indeed ‘irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29), but they find expression in the person of Jesus.

  2. Simon Ponsonby October 31, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    Will- I am convinced these promises here must include the land – Simon

  3. Simon Ponsonby October 31, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    Will- I am convinced these promises here must include the land – Simon

  4. Mat Sheffield October 31, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    I’d echo Will, but ask the question, what of Ezekiel?

    Ezekiel’s vision(s) at the end of the book we understand to be a prophecy concerning first Jesus (the glory of God returning to the renewed temple) and then the Spirit (the river) that flows from it, and the NT writers, especially Paul and John, develop this theme to a huge extent.

    But, where the temple/river imagery is easily scanned from a second-temple expectation into a christology post-Jesus, Ezekiel remains annoyingly explicit about land; tying this prophecy of renewal and return to very specific, geographically identifiable and historic borders (Chapter 48). It is not so easy with Ezekiel to say that land=earth without having to deal with boundaries and divisions of 47/48 and the fact they have not been met.

    • Mat Sheffield October 31, 2017 at 11:44 am #

      My question being, how would one square this circle?

      I happen to agree with the main thrust of your articles here, but remain sufficiently uncertain that, as Will says so honestly, I likewise doubt that it is all so simple…..

  5. James Mendelsohn November 1, 2017 at 5:08 am #

    An interesting and thoughtful pair of articles, much of which I would agree with. A couple of comments:

    1. The author writes: “So the New Testament holds out no expectation that ethnic Jews will return to the territory of the land of Israel as part of the fulfilment of the promises of God.” I’m not sure this is quite correct. Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:23 and Luke 21:24 seem at least to hint that Jews will be back in (sovereign control of?) the land of Israel at Jesus’ return.

    2. In Acts 17, Paul writes, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us”. Although he is not specifically speaking about the Jewish people, his words must imply that, whatever else it may be, the return of the Jewish people to the Middle East and the establishment of the state of Israel is (a) part of God’s sovereign purposes over human history and (b) linked to his saving work (bear in mind that the number of Israeli Messianic Jews has risen from 12 in 1948 to 10-15,000 today). I think these words of Paul offer a middle way between those who say the modern state of Israel *must* be a fulfilment of prophesy and the more extreme Christian anti-Zionists who seem to believe it is God’s Great Mistake!

    • Ian Paul November 1, 2017 at 8:12 am #

      James, thanks for the comment.

      I would take ‘before the Son of Man comes’ in Matt 10.23 not as a reference to the second coming (‘parousia’, a term not used here) but the ‘coming’ referred to in Matt 24.27. This cannot be a reference to The End, since Jesus says clearly it will happen in his lifetime. See the argument at https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/making-sense-of-matthew-24/

      Similarly, the events of Luke 21.24 are connected with the destruction of Jerusalem. In parallel with Matt 24, in Luke 21.32 Jesus solemnly swears ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’.

      I don’t think I quite understand your point about Acts 17. Paul is here drawing on the table of the nations in Gen 10 in order to make a connection with his audience. I am not sure there is any implication about where nations must live…

      • James Mendelsohn November 1, 2017 at 10:50 am #

        Thanks, Ian. I’ll read the article on Matt 24 later. My point about Acts 17 is simply that God is in control of human history, including where nations live at any point in time. This must include the Jewish nation, which in turn must mean that God was in sovereign control of the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. Paul tells us this is linked to God’s saving plans. That’s it!

        (Oh, and re ‘table of nations’ – I don’t follow that. Paul is speaking to an audience which does not have knowledge of the OT.)

  6. colin hamer November 1, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    Hebrews 11: 39-40 says: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us”—the ‘all these’ includes those that lived in the original ‘promised land’ —so a land to the east of the Mediterranean was not what was promised?

  7. colin hamer November 1, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Dennis McCarthy (the most published scholar on covenants in the 20th century?) points out that promissory (Patriarchal/Davidic) and conditional (Sinaitic) covenants are different from each other and states, ‘the attempt to make the Davidic covenant formally identical with the Mosaic on the basis of a covenant form common to the two has failed.’ It seems clear from the pervasive ‘divorce’ imagery in both the OT and NT that Israel lost its covenant relationship with God, and thus the promises associated with that particular covenant were also lost. Jesus came as the Bridegroom Messiah to betroth the elect, including the elect of israel. It is not possible to betroth a ‘married’ Israel.

    Dennis J. McCarthy, Old Testament Covenant: A Survey of Current Opinions (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Biblewerk, 1967; Repr. Oxford: Blackwell, 1972), 46–52, 58

  8. Andrew Irvine November 1, 2017 at 10:18 am #

    Dear Ian,

    While I largely agree with your argument, I have a nagging issue.

    The story of Israel is, I believe, unique, astonishing, in the history of nations. To my knowledge no other nation has being reborn after almost 2,000 years of non-existence, witnessed their language become again their ‘first language’ after being dormant for those two millennia, and then seen some 3 million of their ethnic citizens return to their homeland.

    Can we really observe the above rather incredible circumstances and say that God is not in this?

    Andrew

  9. Simon Ponsonby November 1, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    When did God’s unconditional promise to Abraham to give his descendants all the land he could see FOREVER become a promise that was conditional and temporary and spiritually fulfilled? (Gen13v15). When did a specific promise to a specific people about a specific plot of land, for a specific time (a thousand generations) suddenly end or become christianised? (Psa105v8). When Jesus came? Hardly. All the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus – they still stand in him – Jesus affirms all the promises God made, not annuls or spiritualises or gives to gentiles what was particularly given to Jews.

    • John Grayston November 1, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

      Well, without wishing to argue for replacement theology, this may depend on whom we see as the descendants of Abraham in 21st century (see eg Gal 3:29). If the new covenant people of God are a united body comprising both Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:12-22), what does that say about the land. Logically it would mean the all new covenant people of God/descendants of Abraham have a right to the land not just national Israel. Not entriely sure where that takes us except to suggest that the new covenant may introduce some changes in the way we see prophecy fuilfilled.

  10. colin hamer November 1, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

    It has been pointed out that the “offspring” (or “seed” as it is in NIV) in both Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 22:17, in the Hebrew text itself, is intended to be understood as a single seed. So Paul in Gal 3:16-17 does not deny a literal nation fulfilment, rather he explains that there were, in effect, two promises given to Abraham (or at least two aspects to the one promise), one fulfilled in Jacob and his many descendants who God covenanted conditionally with at Sinai, and another unconditional promise that lay in the more distant future with a very specific offspring—that is Jesus Christ. I believe this the 1689 Baptist confession position.

    Collins, Jack. “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural,” Tyndale Bulletin 48.1 (1997): 139?48; Alexander, Desmond T. “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” Tyndale Bulletin 48.2 (1997): 363?67.

  11. colin hamer November 1, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    The conditionality of the Mosaic covenant is expressed (for example) in Exod 19:3–8; Exod 24:3–8; Deut 30:11–20 and Josh 24:1–28.

    The termination of that covenant in the marital imagery is clear in Jer 3:1–8, where it is explained that Israel (as a nation) could never come back to God because that would contravene the Deut 24 law of marriage. The termination of the covenant in history is seen (for example) in 1 Kgs 9:7?8 and 2 Kgs 17:6–18.

    Any return for ‘Israel’ (I note that James, as above, mentions ethnic Israel—does the Bible have such a concept?) would have to be on the new covenant terms, Jew and Gentile together as John Grayston (as above) points out, inaugurated by the cross which annulled the law of marriage to enable the Bridegroom Messiah (the seed of Abraham) to take the elect in a new marriage (Rom 7:1-6).

    • simon November 1, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

      The Abrahamic covenant is not the Mosaic covenant – the latter was conditional and temporal the former unconditional and perpetual

      • colin hamer November 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

        The 1689 London Confession sees that there were two promises to Abraham, one crystalised in the conditional covenat with Israel, and a separate single seed (Jesus Christ) promise crystallized in the unconditional new covenant. The Westminster Confession conflated the two promises which is why the Baptists would not sign it. I think they were right.

  12. Simon November 1, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

    Thanks Colin – my father, a former strict and particular Baptist (now a little warmed up), will be delighted when I discuss this with him later 🙂 Like the Baptists, I believe in 2 promises to Abraham – the first outworked in the land and the separate single seed (as in gal3) = Jesus. Where I & old Baptists part is that I believe the conditional mosaic covenant re-Land is different than the first part of unconditional Abrahamic covenant re-land

  13. John Grayston November 1, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    And what do we make of Rom 4:13, where Abraham ‘received the promise that he would be heir of the world (kosmos)’? And is it not significant that, however we interpret Rom 9-11, in his insistence that God has place and a role for Israel Paul does not mention the land. For promises about the land we have to go back to the OT. Why is this?

  14. Simon November 2, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    John, thank you. All good questions, but not hurdles.Here’s my take:
    -What we can’t make of it is to suggest it implies a loss of the clear and repeated promise of land forever to Abraham’s heirs – it suggests an expansion but not at the expense of original promise
    -what we can’t make of it it to whittle away from Rom11v29 the perpetual promises of gifts that still stand
    -what we can’t make of the paucity of references in NT to land is an argument that negates the land
    -The NT lack of promises does not cancel the OT proliferation of promises about land – Paul writing 2Tim3v16 all scripture is God breathed…is at the very least speaking of the OT and its promises
    -Paul makes little reference to restoration to the land because they are in the land promised when he wrote
    -The book of Revelation, though heavily symbolic is replete with references to the land that cannot all simply be re-symbolized to evacuate the very meaning out of the words: Zion, Jerusalem, Israel etc
    -Acts1v6 The disciples, after the resurrection, asked Jesus if he would NOW restore the kingdom to Israel – and Jesus -reply was not that such a question re-land was no longer relevant, he affirms the basis of it but says “it is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set” – this means the Father has set a time and date to restore the kingdom!
    -Lk13v35 – Jesus will return to Jerusalem (acts1v9-12; Zech14v4-5; Matt24v30)
    -Lk21v24 Jesus said that Jerusalem would be overrun by Gentiles ‘until the time of the Gentiles was fulfilled’
    suggesting there would come a time when Gentiles would no longer rule Israel – at the time it was the Romans, previously Babylonians, then Greeks, after the Romans the Saracens and Crusaders then Ottomans then British Mandate….and then the time of Gentiles was fulfilled
    -Acts3v13 Peter refers to ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’ – this familiar threefold designation of God is about covenant promise of the land to Israel – to these three patriarchs God promised and repeated the promise to give the land. Matt22v32 Jesus also uses this triplet.

  15. simon ponsonby November 2, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    PS: Ian ends this blog piece (and I’m very grateful he is willing to even put this contentious discussion out there) by referring to what he calls the ‘bogie’ text of Rom11:26 ‘and so/then all Israel will be saved’ – and argues this is the text on which christian zionists build an argument and suggests if this can be deconstructed so that Israel here does not mean Israel, then somehow the whole Zionist theological claim of ‘Israel’s divine right to the land’ rug is pulled from under the zionists’ feet. But this is a straw man. I am a Christian Zionist and this text is not relevant to my zionism nor any others I know. This text is about the conversion of Jews not the land of the Jews.

    I don’t read it as many respected scholars from Calvin to Ian do, because every reference in the book of Romans to Israel is to the people, the Jews. Israel no-where in Romans, indeed no-where in the Bible means Jew & Gentile (except possibly Gal6v16 when qualified with ‘of God’ and here alone may refer to the Church, or more particularly the elect Christian Jews within Israel). The whole argument of Paul in Rom9-11 has been addressing the question: what about the Jews in God’s economy – has God finished with them? Paul explains God’s faithfulness to his promises. Many Jews have being broken off the Olive Tree, so Gentiles can be grafted in. But Paul’s hope is that when elect Gentiles have come in, the broken off Jews will be re-grafted in, finally coming to faith in Jesus. The point is, the argument in ch9-11 is about Jews. And numerous references in the argument where Israel is mentioned refers to Israel as the Jews. To say Paul suddenly says Gentiles and Jews are Israel is without any Biblical warrant, let alone not standing etymologically nor exegetically in context of Rom9-11. Its also very bizarre if Israel means the church, for where is the mystery Paul is keen for them to grasp if he is saying all the church will be saved 11v25 – who disputes that anyway? An end time conversion of Jews to Jesus makes sense of context, argument and word meanings – yes, Wright & Ian reject this, I am with Dunn & Cranfield 🙂

    A caution – to say Israel is not Israel here plays into the hands of anti-semites and their desire for Israel’s cultural annihilation. This is certainly not at all where Ian is coming from, but it is where many others are coming from who want to take not just the Jews out of the land, but take their very identity and claim to be Jews from them.

    Finally, whilst Rom11v26 is not a Christian zionist ‘bogie’ text as Ian put it, the ‘bogie text’ is Romans 11v29 stating God’s gifts and calling to Jacob (=Israel v26l) are irrevocable. And what are those gifts that cannot be reversed? Gen17v7-8 God promises he will be Israel’s God and the land of Israel will be Israel’s land. What a gift.

  16. John Grayston November 2, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    Thanks to both Simons for thorough responses. I am afraid I am still left with the question of what it is that Paul envisage for Israel (and I am fully convinced that he is speaking of national Israel) in Romans 9-11. To which the answer seems to be salvation through the Deliverer from Zion and the establishment of a new covenant. This salvation and incorporation into a new humanity (back to Eph 2 again) along with the Gentiles seems to me to be a far greater gift than a relatively barren piece of real estate (and yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek at this point). If Paul had seen the supreme gift for Israel in the future as being land would he not have expressed Rom 11:25-32 rather differently? To which the answer may be that salvation is the key but that the land is also important; I am not yet convinced. I cannot escape the idea that if the passionately Jewish Paul had believed that the land was an essential part of God’s future blessing for the nation he might have mentioned it.
    I also think that this accords better with the original promise to Abraham which, in Gen 12:1-3 is about something much more wonderful than the land. At risk of overstating the case I wonder if the land is not a means to a greater end rather than the ultimate end in itself.
    If we can accept that the advent of Jesus the Messiah reshapes our understanding of some OT prophetic material, might it not also reshape our understanding of the place of the land? If the temple and it’s furnishings were in some sense pointers to Jesus as he himself suggests and as the writer of Hebrews seems to believe, might we not have to reshape our understanding of the role of the land? Other than a few fringe groups, I don’t hear Christians arguing for the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the sacrificial system – which would be unthinkable in the light of the sacrifice of Christ. So, if we are comfortable to see temple in a fresh way post Jesus, why not the land?
    Nor am I convinced that Revelation is replete with references to the land that cannot be re-symbolised. I find one reference to Zion, two to Israel (neither of which has the land in view, but the people) and three to Jerusalem, all of which are heavily re-symbolised in the text itself. But that may just be down to a different hermeneutic.

    • Simon November 2, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

      Thanks John – One day we will know even as we’re known.

      Just two things – you state: ‘If Paul had seen the supreme gift for Israel in the future as being land…’ implying someone here said that – no one has ever claimed that – if they did they’d be a heretic and a nut

      You say ‘the land is not a means to a greater end rather than the ultimate end in itself.’ – amen – but no one ever said it was – certainly not me

      The land is gift, and context for the revelation of the greatest gift – Jesus the saviour

      Cheers – Simon (also known as Simon Ponsonby when he can be bothered to type his name)

      • John Grayston November 2, 2017 at 7:26 pm #

        Sorry, Simon, if I read too much into your earlier post. It would seem that if there is a distinction between our understandings it is one of emphasis raher than something more fundamental.

  17. Simon November 3, 2017 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks John – the distinction is certainly not as distinctive as you thought I thought 🙂 I have probably preached several thousand sermons in my life, and yet referred or taught on Israel & the Land less than10x? It is central to my understanding of the Bible’s eschatological schematic but not crucial nor confessional.

    Incidentally, on the question of references to the land of Israel in the NT, you offered the word count in Revelation as a modest total of only 6 references to Zion, Israel, Jerusalem. I would add to this references to ‘the City’, and ‘Armageddon’, ‘Tribes’, ‘Temple’ located in the land. Revelation uses the word GE 67x which is translated as ‘earth’ and indeed the whole earth is often in view – but a few of these uses in Revelation refer more particularly to the ‘Land’ of Israel. In Hellenistic Judaism ‘Ge’ and ‘eretz’ were synonymous and Ge is used when translating land of Israel/aretz in the LXX, and Ge refers to land of Israel in the Maccabees, occasionally in the Gospels, and in Philo. So I see more references and allusions to Israel than you in the NT 🙂 Good to muse.

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